9 best LGBT novels to look out for in 2018
Queer and transgender adult fiction that's exploring identity, politics and love
From stories of love to stories of friendship, from gay parenting to trans identity and from family to politics, it's heartening to see the scope of LGBT+ lives reflected in the world of literature, and even more so to see many of them be relatable, complex tales that don't always focus solely on sexuality but on experience.
So if you're looking to relate, to escape or simply to broaden your horizons this year, look no further than this list which we curated from hours of reading and whittling down.
'Disoriental' by Négar Djavadi, translated by Tina Kover: £11.34, Amazon
As Kimia sits in a hospital waiting room, anticipating her IVF results, she reflects on the history of her family, from her great grandfather with his 52 wives to her parents, Darius and Sara, who fought back against each corrupt regime of their time in Iran. Tales of her extended tree of relatives are captivatingly brought to life as we explore the family’s interconnectedness, their conflicts and their secrets. At the age of ten, Kimia travelled across the Kurdish border and through Turkey to eventually land in France when her parents flee Iran. Reflecting on her childhood in her homeland, her teen years in Paris and her current life as a DJ and a hopefully soon to be mother, Kimia is easy to fall in love with, and so are her eccentric, hilarious and sometimes terrifying relatives. Making its English language debut, this novel is one not to be missed.
'Little Fish' by Casey Plett: £14.99, Amazon
Past and future come together in this tale of Wendy Reimer, a transgender woman who discovers that her late grandfather, a Mennonite farmer, might also have been trans. Exploring themes of faith, identity, sex work, alcoholism, friendship and suicide, Wendy’s journey and connections tap into what it means to be trans in today’s USA – the highs and the lows. As she comes increasingly closer to discover her grandfather’s history and everything they have in common, she reflects back on her own life in this touching and beautiful novel.
'So lucky' by Nicola Griffith, £8.41, Amazon
After her wife leaves her and she is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the same week, Mara Tagarelli begins to build a new life for herself. Frustrated with the “victim narrative” that has been forced upon her by colleagues, friends and her martial arts teacher, she decides to leave old connections behind and carve out a new community for herself and others. A short, fast-paced whirlwind of a novel that sees Mara’s confidence shattered as her own fears begin to haunt her, and she comes to the realisation that others might be out to hurt her too. Spine tingling and in places downright terrifying, we were routing for Mara to survive and simply to feel safe again.
'Speak No Evil' by Uzodinma Iweala, £15.28, Amazon
Speak No Evil is not an easy read. It’s a coming-of-age book that follows the journey of Niru, a school boy living in the US, as he grapples to come to terms with being gay and fears that his conservative Nigerian parents won’t accept him if they find out. As he tiptoes around them, secretly dating a boy he met in a sports shop, he is pulled into a conflict with his best friend Meredith that ultimately ends in unexpected tragedy. At the heart of this book are themes of identity, home and forgiveness. A craftily written heart-wrencher, it explores what it means to be black and queer in today’s USA.
'Confessions of the Fox' by Jordy Rosenberg, £12.48, Amazon
In this exciting debut, Jordy Rosenberg retells the story of 18th century thief and jail breaker Jack Sheppard. It is narrated by a present transgender historian who stumbles across a manuscript that reveals Jack is transgender. We follow the academic’s journey, reading the manuscript alongside him and picking up on his notes and additions. From Jack’s beginnings as an unpaid worker to his falling in love with Bess, prostitute and witty thief, to their joint mission to steal an “elixir” of testosterone, this story is charming and the characters endearing from start to finish. It’s a heavy book – one that requires a lot of concentration. But if you’re prepared to tackle it, it’s fascinating and above all magical.
'Paper is White' by Hilary Zaid, £12.78, Amazon
Ellen Margolis is not anticipating her work and personal life to collide, but that’s exactly what happens when she receives a call on her home number from a woman who survived the Holocaust and wants to chat. As Ellen prepares to get married to her long-time girlfriend, she is overwhelmed with memories of her own grandmother, also a Holocaust survivor, who passed away years before without knowing Ellen was gay. Working as an oral historian who records testimonies of Holocaust survivors, Ellen isn’t supposed to become personally attached to clients. But as thoughts of her wedding, her grandma and this new grandmotherly figure intertwine, Ellen can’t help but dig deeper into the past. A tale of faith, love and risk-taking, this sweet and warming tale explores Jewishness and queerness for new generations, and old.
'How to Survive a Summer' by Nick White: £13.72, Amazon
This debut novel by Nick White tells the story of a young gay man forced to confront his past experience of being sent to a gay conversion camp as a teenager, when he discovers that this unhappy chapter of his life is being turned into a horror film. Born to a Baptist preacher in the southern states of the US, Will manages to escape the fate of his birth, living and working on his film studies PhD in the Midwest. As a consequence of the experiences of his earlier life, Will suffers from chronic PTSD and maintains an emotional distance from other people. White’s descriptions of Will’s time at the camp are incredibly evocative; you can feel the heat, hear the cicadas and envisage the remote and eerie landscape of the south portrayed within. This is a chilling, haunting novel, particularly as gay conversion therapy continues to be practised around the world.
'The Clothesline Swing' by Ahmad Danny Ramadan: £18.99, Amazon
The punishment for being gay in Syria? “We are instructed to take you to the tallest building in town and throw you off the edge to a crowd of spectators. Then we should drop rocks upon your dead body until you’re covered in your makeshift grave.” Set against the backdrop of the Arab Spring and Syrian Civil War, 'The Clothesline Swing' follows one gay man’s decade-long escape from both political conflict and persecution for his sexuality. The book depicts two lovers – one on the edge of death, the other an avid storyteller and dreamer – who remain anchored to memories of a dying Syria. Ramadan’s testimony of negotiating this conservative country as a gay man offers an incredible insight into this hidden world alongside a remarkable description of the fall of Damascus.
'Mean' by Myriam Gurba: £12.99, Amazon
“Of course an elderly white dude taught anthropology. Who better to explain all the cultures and peoples of the world than he who is in charge of them?” While 'Mean' is more memoir than fiction, we couldn’t exclude this book from a round-up of the best LGBT+ books of the past year. This devastating offering from spoken-word performer, artist and writer Myriam Gurba is a superb account of growing up as a queer, mixed-race Chicana. Combining brutal honesty with wit and poetry, this powerful account of the ways in which sexual violence, misogyny, racism and homophobia intersect is nothing short of remarkable.
Verdict: Best LGBT fiction
Negar Djavadi’s Disoriental tops our list for its elegant storytelling and exploration of identity, history and culture. The complex, vivid and loveable characters kept us intrigued from the start and only got more fascinating with each page turned. Kimia’s story, sometimes uplifting and sometimes tragic, is the ultimate tale of connection, belonging and resistance.
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